The 15-county Northwest Georgia region ranks No. 1 in the state for food insecurity among senior citizens.
“And of those counties, we have five that rank in the top 10 counties,” said Lynne Reeves, director of the Area Agency on Aging. “That’s shocking to me. It’s hard to see those rankings.”
Being food secure, Reeves said, means a person has access to enough affordable and nutritious food to stay healthy.
Floyd County ranks fourth in the state for insecurity and Bartow County is fifth. Also in the region are Murray at second place, Whitfield at third and Pickens at seventh, out of the state’s 159 counties.
The rankings come from the state’s Division on Aging Services’ database, drawn from surveys used as a screening and prioritization tool whenever people ask their regional AAA for help.
The agencies offer a wide range of services, from home support and wellness programs to caregiver assistance and advocacy.
Food survey questions are designed to zero in on the main issue: How many times in the past month did that person skip or cut back on meals out of necessity. The actual numbers change daily, but Reeves said there were 147 people Thursday on the regional waiting list for home-delivered meals, with 31 of those in Floyd County.
“And only those who request services are counted, so we have to assume there are more,” she pointed out.
Capping the problem is the fact that Georgia itself is among the top 10 food-insecure states for seniors in the nation.
Senior Hunger Summit
That’s why the umbrella agency, the Georgia Department of Human Services, is convening the state’s first Senior Hunger Summit in Stone Mountain on Sept. 27-28.“The Summit is an event meant to raise awareness of the issue of senior hunger in Georgia and to begin developing a plan to end it,” DHS spokeswoman Ravae Graham said.
Officials are hoping to attract a diverse group of stakeholders, including elected officials, representatives of faith-based and social services organizations and members of the business community such as grocery, restaurant and convenience store owners.
Reeves said there also are a number of private industries in Northwest Georgia that have no connection to food sales but donate to meal programs “because they’re so concerned about senior hunger.”
The Summit sessions will focus on the barriers to food access, where the problems are, and how to overcome them.
“We must bring together our brightest minds to address the issue of food insecurity for older Georgians and make sure this is a top 10 list we never see again,” Graham said.
One problem is that older people are enrolled in SNAP, the food stamp program, at a much lower rate than younger people. Reeves said it may be that many just don’t know they’re eligible for the benefit.
The availability of transportation to get to a grocery store — especially in rural areas — is a thornier problem to solve.
“We have to look at food deserts, where people are a mile or more away from places with healthy food such as fresh vegetables and have to buy at convenience stores,” Reeves said.
That means they end up living on packaged food that’s higher in salt, fat and sugar. Reeves said it puts them at an increased risk for chronic health conditions such as obesity and diabetes, and they must spend more of their limited income on medications at the expense of nutritious food.
- Click here for a link of factors that can contribute to food deserts.
“It’s a cycle we hope to end,” she said.
Registration for the summit is underway through Sept. 20 at the 2016 Senior Hunger Summit website. The cost — $100 for one day, $175 for both — covers instruction, materials, a networking reception and lunch.
DHS also has arranged for a discount rate of $138 a day to stay at the Marriott Evergreen Conference Center where the summit will be held. For more information call DHS at 404-232-7877.